Paul's Letter To The Galatians
A Humanities Essay That Teaches
The Study of The Bible As
A Historical Document
PAUL'S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS:
When Paul attended the Jerusalem Conference in 48 or 49, a decision
was made that gentiles would be allowed to become Christians without
becoming Jews first (ie. have a circumcision, and follow the Jewish
Laws). Paul, being the one that defended the gentile's right to be
Christians, became the apostle to the gentiles. Why would Paul, a Jew,
want to be an apostle to gentiles? According to him, Jesus appeared to
him in AD 32 or 36, and told him to preach the good news to the
gentiles (Gal 1:16).
Paul uses scripture to explain why gentiles should not be required
to be circumcised, or obey Jewish Law; however, there are no direct
quotes in scripture that say this. One would wonder why Paul, someone
who grew-up in a "good" Jewish family, would not follow in the
footsteps of Jewish Christian Missionaries, and require Christian
converts to become Jews first. He certainly had to fight to have his
belief accepted! In my opinion, Paul tried to follow the example of
the original apostles (who knew Jesus) by "converting the multitudes."
I think Paul understood human nature better than the other apostles
preaching circumcision to the gentiles. Perhaps he thought that
gentiles would accept Christianity more easily if it was natural to
their lifestyle --I'm sure that the thought of circumcision, and strict
dietary laws scared gentiles from Christianity! It seems that the
"Judaziers" preached a God that was hard to please.
Paul's major problem confronted in his letter to the Galatians is
the preachings of the Judaziers. Apparently, men who preach
circumcision and the Law had been trying to "pervert" the Galatians,
and change their beliefs away from Paul's preachings (Gal 1:7). Paul
is so angered that the Galatians are so easily convinced (Gal 1:6),
that he actually wishes the Judaziers to mutilate themselves (Gal
5:12)! So, the letter to Galatians uses 4 specific tactics to make
Galatians come back to the teachings according to Paul.
Paul begins by defending his credibility as an apostle. He writes a
brief autobiographical history, stressing that he once persecuted
Christians, and then converted when Jesus appeared to him. Also, he
tells the outcome of the Jerusalem Conference, probably to convince
them that other apostles have accepted his theology. This part of the
letter is a bit like a resume of qualifications. I could imagine that
the Judiazers who came to Galatia after Paul, denounced him as an
apostle: that he never met Jesus, and was not truly educated to be an
Next, Paul writes that "obedience to the Law could not earn approval
by God; approval is possible only through faith in Christ" (Perrin, pg.
184). Faith in the crucified Christ will bring righteousness, not the
Law (Gal 2:21). Having circumcision will do nothing to make one better
in the eyes of God.
Then, Paul uses an allegory of The Two Covenants: Abraham's child of
a slave woman represents Jerusalem living under the Law, and the child
of the free woman represents Jerusalem being free! This tactic, along
with Paul's use of familiar Jewish argument style, quoting scripture
after scripture to prove a point (Gal 3), are common preaching styles;
probably taught to him during whatever rabbinic training he got
(perhaps when he spent time with Peter). Paul also tries to appeal to
the Helenistic enthusiasm in Christianity in Gal 3:1-5.
Although Paul makes some very convincing arguments in favor of his
beliefs, I cannot agree with his interpretation of Christ Jesus
Christianity. Compare these two quotes from New Testament Scripture
(The first is by Paul in Galations. The second is a quote of Jesus in
the Book of Matthew.):
"knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but
by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works
of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be
justified." (Gal 2:16)
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I
did not come to destroy but to fulfill .... Whoever therefore
breaks one of the least of these commandments,
shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.." (Matt 5: 17 & 19)
Although I realize the Book of Matthew was written after Galatians,
the preachings of Jesus were made before Matthew was even a Christian!
Points to consider before accusing Paul of defying Jesus would be to
find out if Paul had access to all the words of Jesus. The Quell was
supposedly present during Paul's lifetime. It is also possible that
Matthew added these words of Jesus in his book, but they may not have
been true ... he has added other unproven events before. Weather Paul
was aware of these words or not, he was obviously preaching a
fundamentally different belief than Jesus was.
Paul argues his position only up to Gal. 5:12, after that, he
contradicts his preaching until 6:10, where he ends the letter. This
area is full of rules/laws for the Galatians to live by. Of course, he
justifies that Christians live by these laws because they "Walk in the
Spirit of Christ." (Gal 5:16) If Christians are to "imitate" Jesus'
actions & morals, then why should they decide to follow some, and not
others? This is more evidence of Peter trying to create a "convenient"
The problem of acceptance of Jewish Law, I believe, is the
fundamental split in Christianity. It can still be seen today:
Catholicism represents Paul's view of Christianity, while Seventh Day
Adventist Christians keep Jewish Law. However, if Paul had preached
the Law, I don't believe that Christianity would even be present today
(especially among the gentiles). He did much to advance Christianity;
however, Gentile Christianity became a religion of Paul, rather than a
religion of Jesus.